Tips for Designing ADA Compliant Online Courses

Online instructors take a long time to create online courses that promote academic growth in their area of ​​content; However, they often ignore simple strategies for tailoring their courses to comply with ADA.

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) of 1990, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, states that all individuals should have equal accessibility, including online education opportunities. The ADA requires all online courses to be fully compliant from the start of the course, which can be difficult.

As instructors, we must exercise due diligence to develop ADA compliant courses. Below are some simple strategies for creating accessible courses and doing due diligence.

1. Hypertext links

To support ADA compliance in online courses, we recommend that you start by ensuring that all hyperlinks are text in a sentence to promote readability. The sample text below illustrates different ways that instructors attempt to hyperlink.

Text 1: To view ADA rules, click here:

Text 2: To view the ADA rules, click here.

Text 3: To view ADA regulations, visit

Text 4: ADA Rules

While they may all look correct, only texts 3 and 4 are ADA compliant. Text 3 places the link in a sentence (this option should only be used for short links). Text 4 increases readability, especially with longer website links. Text 1 and Text 2 do not support learners who have a screen reader.

2. Text design

When designing information material, a sans serif font is the easiest to read. Sans serif is a font style that does not have additional strokes attached to letters. Times New Roman and Palatino have the additional traits and should be avoided. Examples of acceptable sans serif fonts are Arial and Helvetica. Once a sans serif font is selected, it is best to use the same font throughout the course. Minimizing font variations helps make lessons ADA compliant and can help all learners stay focused.

Another factor to consider with text design is accessibility and usability. For accessibility and usability, it is best to have a dark colored font on a light colored background, also known as high contrast. The best option for readability is a black font with a white background. If instructors want to use color, they should avoid using extremely vivid background colors, such as red.

It is especially beneficial to avoid red-green or yellow-blue combinations as contrasting colors, as people who are color blind are unable to differentiate text from the background.

Once the text colors have been chosen, the formatting of the text should be examined. Text formatting should follow the “less is more” rule, especially with the use of bold and italics. Use them sparingly and only to emphasize the extreme elements. Regarding underlining, the only text that needs to be underlined is text with a hyperlink to meet ADA compliance.

3. Images / Graphics

Images and graphics can be a powerful addition to any course as they can illustrate the content; however, even the images have ADA regulations. Images and graphics should be relevant to the content, visibly easy to see, and in high resolution. It is best to avoid moving or flickering images.

The last step in making images and graphics ADA compliant is to add an alt tag or alt text. Alt Text stands for Alt Text and is a word or phrase that can be added to describe the image or graphic. Most learning management systems (LMS) like Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, etc. have an alt tag option when adding the image or graphic.

4. Audio / video elements

Just like with pictures and graphics, it’s important to make sure that lessons have clear audio and video. Clear sound requires minimal background noise, clear pronunciation of words, and constant volume. Clear video has minimal movement to avoid blurry focus and high resolution in rendering.

Audio and video files require written transcription, also known as closed captioning for videos. The inclusion of transcripts with lectures demonstrates due diligence towards ADA compliance, as does the provision of transcripts of audio commentary.

It is recommended to have audio or video clips that are 3 to 10 minutes long. If the content takes longer to cover, it is best to create short, segmented videos, each ranging from 3 to 10 minutes.

The final aspect of audio and video accessibility is to use a universal audio or video player. We recommend that you use MP3 (audio) or MP4 (video) file formats.

5. Documents

All text in a course should be searchable, allowing learners to search for words or phrases in a document. If a PDF document is not searchable, a plain text version should be available. When linking documents in a course, the link label must have the file extension type at the end (.doc or .docx for a Word document, .ppt for PowerPoint, .xlsx or .xltx for Excel , etc.).

Tables and charts may also illustrate the content covered and must be ADA compliant. Any table or graph should have identifying headers and labels as well as summaries. Additionally, the course syllabus is a document that must include an accessibility statement for students that describes ADA procedures.

By incorporating a few of these steps, instructors establish their due diligence towards creating ADA compliant courses. While we do our due diligence, we must also strive to meet all ADA compliance regulations when designing and redesigning our courses.